Wendy collapsed to the floor as they entered Arcadia and her fey form revealed the true extent of her injuries. She felt her grip on the bag weaken along with her control over the soul inside and she wanted to weep as she felt it slip her grasp. They had been so close!
The Devil’s soul ripped free and lunged straight at Kevin. She tried to get up, to push herself between them again but her legs were too weak. It felt like there was a hole in her chest, because right now there was and she could barely breathe. The dark magic had left a gaping wound that had somehow missed her heart, but she was rapidly losing blood. She could see charred skin stretching across her chest and down her arms, and she hoped if she survived this that she could still use her hands. Her ribs were clearly broken, as was her right arm, and probably also her pelvis. She couldn’t move, only watch through a haze of pain and blood as the malicious soul bore down on the man she loved.
But it stopped, bouncing off his chest several times as if it couldn’t quite believe what was happening. There was a faint haze around Kevin, a glow of power that was protecting him from the soul’s attack.
Had the mantle had finally kicked in? Took it long enough.
And then everything became blurry and she could feel herself slipping into darkness. As she keeled over sideways, she half saw people appearing out of the mist. She hoped they were reinforcements. Kevin still needed protecting. Especially if she didn’t wake up.
She woke up to sunlight. It wasn’t her bed or her house and for a moment she panicked. Then the pain hit her and the room became less important. An elderly woman that she recognised as one of the grandmothers bustled around her bed and a small part of her brain registered that she must be at their cottage.
It wasn’t as bad as before. Or perhaps it was worse, now that she was actually lucid enough to acknowledge the pain. She hurt everywhere and she could barely move. But she was alive, which was an unexpected and positive outcome. And Kevin was slumped over asleep by edge of the bed, also alive and apparently unharmed, which was an extremely positive outcome. The busy grandmother came over to force her to drink something that tasted foul and would apparently leave her with ‘skin like a baby’s ass’ once she healed. Where were Marco and Buddy? Were they OK? It was… so hard… to…
She sank back into sleep.
It took over a week before Wendy could sit up with some discomfort and begin to walk again. The burns had mostly healed thanks to the foul unguent the grandmothers poured down her throat whenever she woke, and her bones were setting far faster than they normally would. She still had bandages all over her chest, and it was difficult to breathe. The grandmothers told her she would always have the scars on her front and back in her fey form, and it would be difficult for her to do any strenuous activity in either body. But her hands were safe and her arms could move and she could still create, so it didn’t matter too much. Clothes could cover scars, and even if her skin wasn’t quite ’baby’s ass’ territory, it was still looking pretty good for someone who was blistered and black not so long ago.
Kevin had stayed by her side the whole time. It couldn’t have been comfortable sleeping on the chair in the corner, but he was always right there when she woke up and the happy warmth it filled her with dulled the ache in her torso. He brought her soup and helped change her bandages even with the grandmothers tutting and trying to swat him away. She had never felt safer.
It took him three days of her being awake and lucid before he sat down and awkwardly brought out the little box with the most beautiful ring she had ever seen. She couldn’t wear it at the time because the burns were still healing, but as soon as the grandmothers let her it went straight on. The weight was reassuring whenever she woke or slept and she would sit and just admire it when he was asleep. Of course, he complained that it wasn’t perfect, but she didn’t care. No nocker was ever truly happy with their work. He could have given her a piece of string and it would have been perfect to her. It lifted the tightness in her chest and made all her fears and pain fly to the other side of the stars.
It would have to be an Autumn wedding, of course. It was only appropriate.
Wendy sat in the back garden, dangling their youngest on her knee and watching their eldest making patterns with mud and sticks. It had been seven years since the last time the queens had called upon her and Kevin, six since they had gotten married and four since their eldest child had been born. She had never entirely gotten back the full use of her body – on cold days her chest ached, and long flights of stairs or heavy boxes left her struggling for breath. She told other people that it was too much exposure to sawdust and lacquers without proper safety equipment in her youth, but at night or when they went to visit Marco in Arcadia she could sometimes feel the scars twinge. But they were living comfortably, and safely. She had taken over the master luthier’s shop when he had retired and it was good work helping the apprentices and selling her pieces. They weren’t rich, but it was enough to get by and keep doing what they loved.
Still, she was getting old. Not in human terms, but she could feel her Changeling soul loosening its grip. It wasn’t really surprising – she was almost thirty as it was, and despite her continued creative work the banality had to catch up eventually. She was married with kids and a steady job in a white picket house in the suburbs. It made her sad to think that she wouldn’t be able to see Marco and Hazel anymore, maybe wouldn’t even be able to remember them now that Marco was full fey and was permanently on the other side. Her children wouldn’t know the wonder of Arcadia as she had, would never see the libraries and the gardens and the strange and amazing people. But they also wouldn’t know the danger. Life couldn’t always be fleeing from madmen and evil magic and certain death. Changeling souls didn’t stay forever. But that was OK. That was how it was supposed to be.
The sun was starting to go down, and it was getting chilly. Kevin would be home soon, and she had to get dinner ready. She stood up, calling the little ones inside. Silently, as if little more than a breath of wind, the soul left.